From the Dunes to the Incas

After our differential had been repaired, we left Huancayo and headed up into the high mountains again. For the second time, we drove across the main ridge of the Andes, this time via a 16,000-foot-high (5000m) pass and across a magnificent plateau full of deep-blue lakes near Santa Inés. After such a long time in the thin air of the high mountains, we were now on the verge of an exciting descent down to the coast.

Driving through long, deep valley along a road with countless curves, we reached sea-level again and visited our first Incan fortress at Tambo Colorado, which is considered the best preserved set of ruins along the coast. The ancient colors can still be seen on the walls, and you occasionally come upon mummies in the surrounding area. The coast itself was not very scenic – rubbish washed up onto the shore, dead marine creatures, and bleak fish factories lining the waterfront. We moved on quickly to Paracas National Park and took a bird-watching tour to the Islas Ballestas, which are regarded as a veritable compensation for the expensive trip to the Galapagos Islands since 85% of the birds living there are also found here. We saw lots of birds, but the amounts of guano covering the island were even more fascinating. Every seven years, this high-quality fertilizer is scraped off and distributed throughout the entire world, a well-paid job, but one which certainly wouldn’t appeal to everyone’s nose.

Our way to Ica continued along the coast and through the national park on rough corrugated tracks over the soft sand next to the high dunes. Of course, a night up on one of the dunes was a must, so, much to Robert and Carla’s delight, we found a very special spot in the middle of the endless sand box. In Ica, we picked up Joshua, a friend from our student days who accompanied us for the following two and a half weeks. Our cleverly hatched plan then combined the soccer World Cup, sight-seeing, and many miles of driving through southern Peru. Joshua was able to enjoy the off-road capacities of our BREMACH as we drove through exciting terrain along the coast, and he learned to appreciate the advantages of the all-wheel driving system in our search for great places to spend the night. The mysterious Nasca lines were on our path, and Tanja’s childhood dream of seeing the lines from the air was fulfilled when she flew over part of the area in a small plane. The Panamericana led us to the beautiful colonial city of Arquipa, at times along higher roads and then right close to the Pacific. We especially enjoyed the delicious food here (alpaca filet served on a hot lava stone, for example) and the World Cup specials in a roof-top tavern. There is certainly something to be said for watching world-class soccer under the palms at lunch-time!

Our next special destination was the approximately 10,000-foot-deep (more than 3000m) Canon del Colca – the second deepest canyon in the world. The drive there took us up to about 16,500 feet (5000m) and allowed us a view of the eruption of the Ubina volcano. It was even more surprising to be able to see the steaming Sabancaya volcano at an altitude of about 20,000 feet (more than 6000m). Although the Ecuadorian Tourism Ministry likes to market Cotopaxi as the highest active volcano in the world, the almost 700-foot (200m) higher Sabancaya is erupting here. Colca Canyon has been farmed for thousands of years, and its slopes are covered with countless terraced fields and water canals. In addition to these, there is a colony of Andean condors, the largest bird in the Americas. In the morning, we were able to watch the large birds with their more than 10-foot (3m) wing-span sailing in the thermal up-currents at close range and were absolutely fascinated. Of all our encounters with animals during our trip, this was certainly one of the most impressive. We explored the canyon a bit and then devoted another morning to the grand condor spectacle before heading on towards Cusco across remote plateaus. We made it to Cusco late in the evening because of the soccer game Germany–Algeria and felt our brakes getting weaker and weaker. The next morning, a small disaster manifested itself – completely unnoticed by us, we had lost a brake lining-pad along the rough tracks in the mountains, and the consequence was that the brake disc had virtually disintegrated. The brake caliper was also in very bad shape, and we prepared ourselves for the worst.

While we were looking around in Cusco and admiring the countless artesanias and the way they were being sold to unsuspecting tourists (of course, everything is almost always hand-made and alpaca), our mechanic did a fantastic job and, only two nights later, the Bremach was ready to hit the road again. With a new brake disc, brake lining-pads flown to Cusco from Lima just for us, and the brake caliper repaired, we took a test drive to an altitude of about 16,500 feet (5000m) to Hidroelectrica, where we parked and hiked up towards Machu Picchu. Thanks to Bigi and Flo’s tip, we were able to reduce everything to one day. We began hiking to Aguas Calientes next to the train tracks at 4 a.m. and then took the bus to the ruins. The ancient walls were – not surprisingly – well preserved or rebuilt and impressive architecture, but it was really the location of the ruins which astonished us. High up on the mountain, with a view of the primeval forest, Rio Urumba, and the high mountains, Machu Picchu has its own special irresistible charm. We didn’t feel the mystical atmosphere which is said to be there, but we know now that neither did rulers reign here, nor did bloody rituals take place. The crowds of visitors who appeared around 10:30 after the train from Cusco had arrived clogged up the pathways, and we soon fled back down to the valley to be able to watch at least a few minutes of the World Cup game which was being played. Despite the large crowd, a hustle and bustle which doesn’t have much to do with the rest of Peru, and the colossal hype over these ruins, we are happy that we took the (rather expensive) excursion to them. The special location of the site and experiencing this kind of mass tourism in Peru made it worthwhile. Now, with Tikal in Guatemala and Machu Picchu in Peru, we have seen the only two places in the world which are protected by UNESCO because of both their natural and cultural treasures.

On the way back to Cusco, we stopped at the salt works in Maras, where an underground salt spring has been feeding a salt marsh since time immemorial. Even before the Incas, salt was mined there and, still today, the white gold of Maras is transported around the world for gourmets and for healing purposes. The surreal location and the colors cast a spell on us, and being able to wander around the narrow walls between the basins completely freely was a very special and unexpected experience. When we returned to Cusco, Joscha left us again in order to be able to watch Germany’s 7:1 win against Brasil at home. Since then, we have been enjoying the peaceful setting of the campsite with the lovely city at our feet, along with a surprising number of other travelers in overland vehicles (some of them are “old friends” from other sites), and it is great to indulge in true laziness for a few days.

Here are our private pictures of the last few weeks.

3 Thoughts on “From the Dunes to the Incas

  1. Alexander Ucke und Cordula v. Mengersen on Tuesday July 22nd, 2014 at 01:55 PM said:

    Hallo oder auch Hola!
    Es ist ein Erlebnis, aus sicherem Sessel Euch zu folgen. Wir sind schon sehr neugierig, wie’s weiter geht, durch den Norden Chiles oder den Nordwesten Argentiniens? Oder hin und her? Wohl kaum! Na ja, und dann sind wir gespannt auf die vielen Stationen in diesen beiden Ländern. Eure Reiseberichte sind klassisch und haben Klasse, Eure Begegnungen sind gewiss bereichernd für die ganze Familie, und die Fotos sind gelungen, aussagekräftig und lebendig – wir fühlen uns mitten drin. Über 5000 m Höhe mit den Kindern! Wow! Die beiden haben unseren besonderen Respekt. Aber auch die Eltern sind wirklich cool drauf. Weiter so und allen weiterhin stets gute Gesundheit!
    Herzlich grüßen
    Alexander und Cordula

  2. Lieber Maxi,
    viele herzliche Glückwünsche zu Deinem Geburtstag und weiterhin viel Freude und gutes Gelingen auf Eurer Reise!
    Alles Liebe, Deine Ulla

  3. Rolf Limbach on Monday July 14th, 2014 at 01:09 PM said:

    Lieber Maxi,

    von uns herzliche Glückwünsche zum Geburtstag. Schön, nach einem Monat wieder etwas von Euch zu hören, so dass es Euch wohl gut geht.

    Kerstin und Rolf

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